Herbert J. Gans  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Herbert J. Gans (1927– ) is an American sociologist, author of Popular Culture and High Culture.

One of the most prolific and influential sociologists of his generation, Gans trained in urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with Martin Meyerson and Lewis Mumford, among others. Gans made his reputation as a critic of urban renewal in the early 1960s. His study, The Urban Villagers focused on Boston's diverse West End neighborhood which was demolished for the construction of high rise apartments. Gans contrasted the diverse, lively community of immigrants and their children with the impersonal life in the modernist towers that replaced them.

One of the hallmarks of Gans's work is his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. His 1967 book The Levittowners was based on several years of participanat-observation in New Jersey's Levitt-built suburb in Willingboro. Arguing against the popular depiction of suburbs as anomic, apolitical, and antisocial, Gans focused on the dense web of social and political life and institutional innovation in a place that many considered a prototypical suburb.

Like many sociologists of the mid-twentieth century, Gans did not draw a bright line between advocacy and scholarship. He served as a consultant to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder (also known as the Kerner Commission), published widely in popular periodicals and newspapers, and consulted in urban and public policy. Gans also offered rigorous, often scathing criticism of the sociological weaknesses of such concepts as the "urban underclass," most notably in The War Against The Poor (1995). Gans also continued to write critically about what he called the fallacy of "architectural determinism," namely the belief that urban planning and architecture could solve the problems of poverty and declining civic engagement. His collection of essays People, Plans, and Policies (1991) offered his most sustained criticism of city planning as a vehicle for social reform.

In mid-career, Gans developed a third major thread in his scholarship. He became one of the first and most prominent sociologists of the mass media, particularly television. Here Gans was influenced by the Frankfurt School, offering grounded studies of media production and news broadcasting. Gans did not spend as much time as other mid-century sociologists theorizing, but his work often offers pointed critiques of sociological method. In one of his more piquant articles, Gans lamented what he saw as the intellectual cost of social scientists' emphasis on novelty, arguing that cohorts of academics regularly suffered "sociological amnesia," failing to acknowledge their indebtedness to a previous generation of scholars in their field.

Gans now teaches at Columbia University.


  • The Urban Villagers (1962)
  • The Levittowners (1967)
  • People and Plans (1968)
  • More Equality (1973)
  • Popular Culture and High Culture (1974)
  • Deciding What's News: A study of CBS evening news, NBC nightly news, Newsweek, and Time (1979)
  • Middle American Individualism (1988)
  • People, Plans, and Policies (1991)
  • The War Against The Poor (1992)
  • Making Sense of America (1999)
  • Democracy and the News (2003)
  • Imagining America in 2033: How the Country Put Itself Together After Bush University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2009.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Herbert J. Gans" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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